I struggle with finishing writing projects. I’ll get a new idea, get lost in my head about not being good enough to execute my own vision, and then convince myself out of working on that project. Most of my projects involve helping people, so I convince myself I need to be an expert in a subject to write about it. Impostor syndrome is so instilled in me that I gate-keep myself out of the spaces where I belong.
According to Oxford Languages, Impostor Syndrome is “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” One of my favorite writers, Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez, adapts Impostor Syndrome for BIWOC in her book, For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts. She explains that we feel impostor syndrome because we’ve been socialized to believe our accomplishments come from an outside force (luck, teamwork, etc.) In addition, we’ve been influenced to think we are “an exception to a cultural rule” because white people’s expectations for us are so low. For example, growing up, older white adults consistently reminded me of how ‘exceptional’ I was for a Mexican. However, they didn’t outright say that; they would just say things like “Happy Mother’s Day” to me when I was a teenager or congratulate me for staying in school.
I grew up having meager expectations for myself even though my family had high expectations. Learn to cook, clean the whole house, take care of the kids, cook for the kids, get good grades in school, be a role model, graduate high school, go to college. I was the second person in my big ass family to graduate high school. We grew up poor in the ‘hood. No one outside of our family had high expectations for us. They expected the girls to be knocked up by 18, the boys in gangs, and the rest of us addicted to drugs. I was the exception to the rule only because I had an abortion (which 90% of my family knew nothing about).
Society having low expectations for me and not having the resources to help me critically think about my future led me down the Psychology path. If I had time to think about who I wanted to be instead of worrying about surviving and getting out of the hood, I would have chosen to be a writer instead of learning about the people who made me feel like shit.
Psychology is still very white and very male-centered. Most of the studies we learn about are based on college students from the 60s-70s. None of my people were in college in the 60s and 70s. I never saw myself in Psychology. Looking back, I now understand what Audre Lorde meant when she wrote, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” I was learning about people to help disenfranchised people like me. But I knew I couldn’t do it with the Eurocentric-American-White-People Bullshit tools they gave me.
TECHNICALLY, I’M A TECHNICAL WRITER
I feel like an impostor writing a “Healthy Relationships 101” handbook for young people. Where is my credibility besides my excellent partner? Who else can testify that I practice healthy relationship patterns? I know all this stuff from having survived an unhealthy relationship and doing the work myself. I am a living example of what professional help and education can do for a survivor. But I still don’t feel qualified to write on these subjects because I have nothing tangible to show for it.
What’s even wilder than me thinking that is the fact that I actually do have a technical writer background. I wrote handfuls of educational workshops for 13-18-year-old teens, developed and copyedited complete Operations Training manuals for management teams. For the last 3 years, I’ve been writing about sneakers, athletic wear, and accessories almost every day. I am more than qualified to dissect complex information and make it palatable for folks to read effortlessly. I have receipts, baby, so why am I so pressed about writing this book?
I hold my own damn self back by not valuing my work because I only have a Bachelor’s degree. I keep thinking, I didn’t specialize in anything. How am I supposed to teach others? How can I make an impact without a Master’s or a certification? I keep thinking about those white people with PhDs and degrees in no se que who might devalue my work before it gets its footing. I keep thinking my work is for them, but really it’s not.
I reached out to my community on Instagram and filled them in on my dilemma. I asked, how do I reconcile feeling like an impostor writing about what I’ve learned in my field? This is fundamentally what they said:
My community showed up and reminded me that just sharing what I know is enough. Community knowledge. Un consejo. I don’t need to be an expert in the human experience in its entirety to warn young people about abusive people and how to intervene in red flag situations. I just have to be passionate about helping people avoid bad relationships.
My work isn’t for post graduates. It isn’t for experts. My work is for the general community who doesn’t have access to or want to pursue academia. My work is for those that need it.
Do you see what I just did there? I showed you my technical writing and design skills. I summed up about 8 messages from different friends on Instagram and packaged them neatly into this graphic gallery. Not only is it a cute aesthetic, but it’s also intentional, easy to read, and to the point. I didn’t have to do all that, but I wanted to because this is what I love doing.
When you really sit back and think about it, we wouldn’t know a lot if it wasn’t for one brave person who decided to share what they learned by experience. We know what foods to avoid, what to eat to nourish our bodies, what plants to use to get high because some individuals dared to explore. They weren’t worried about whether people believed them. They just needed to share the knowledge.
In today’s society, most people have to pay to learn new things because 1) teaching is labor, but also because 2) knowledge sets people free. Keeping people disenfranchised is the number one way to exploit them. This is why the United States doesn’t offer free higher education, only free K-12 education. They teach the kind of education that conveniently forgets to teach kids to think for themselves and forces obedience. As much as I hate to admit, Academia teaches you how to critically think, but if people have to choose to pay for that or basic necessities, they’ll always choose survival.
At 22 years old, I couldn’t afford to buy a Master’s degree without knowing my career goals. I couldn’t afford to put myself in more debt without knowing if this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Twenty-two years old was far too young for me to settle into what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t ready to go into debt for learning how to be a therapist; I decided to get real-world experience instead.
The natural progression for someone who has a Psychology degree is graduate school or certification. However, just having a Bachelor’s in Psychology is practically worthless. I basically paid $20 g’s for a degree just for some for-profit “non-profit” to exploit me and pay me $30 g’s a year to do the job of 2 executives. Doing Psychology work is brutal. But working in the Psychology field is even crueler. I decided working one-on-one with people just wasn’t for me. It was rewarding but emotionally exhausting.
So, what do I do with everything I’ve learned as an undergraduate, a mentor, a youth educator? Corporate America would say, “Get a job in that field.” But Spirit tells me, “Tell the world what you know.” The happy medium is making a little money from the labor I put into compiling, citing, and disseminating resources.
But then there’s a little voice in my head that’s separate from Spirit, and she tells me to stay in my lane. Actually, it’s a male voice. And he tells me I’m not smart enough to create this content. He stands in the front of the golden iron gates of publishing and tells me, “No one will want to read this crap.” He reminds me of lacking credentials and all the paths I didn’t take in education, making me unqualified for writing about human behavior.
Imposter Syndrome is causing a lot of you to be quiet about your business, offerings or your goals. You have talents + skills nobody knows about bc you are not sharing your gifts. Being silent about your greatness isn’t humble, it’s wasteful. Stop allowing fear to hold you back.— Jei Monroe | Slay Coach (@JeiMonroe) January 19, 2022
No one in real life kept the gates closed because I wasn’t even coming around to knock for opportunities. Remember those low expectations society had for me? Well, turns out that tactic worked. I’m not sure what planets shifted last year, but it really woke me up. I came face to face with the reality that no one was holding me back except me. I was not an impostor; I was a gatekeeper.
All this is to say that knowledge is power. And I’ve always been about empowering people through whatever work I do: mentoring, teaching, writing. I live to uplift and support my community. I am not an exception to the rule; I am the rule. The women in my community have taught me, mentored me, uplifted me, and so much more. We are exceptional people, not because society tells us we aren’t, but because we’ve survived and fought against colonization, racism, and sexism. And we continue to do this every day.
I am not an impostor. I am a survivor and that gives me more than enough ground to write about survivorship and help others with my work…
Thank you for coming to my TED talk. I’ll see you next week. 🖤
(c) All images included in this post are property of lola hernandez. Images created using www.canva.com.